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In re SRBA

March 18, 2010

IN RE SRBA, CASE NO. 39576 SUBCASE NOS: 45-13792 AND 45-13793.
BRUCE BYRON BEDKE, JARED K. BEDKE, APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF OAKLEY, RESPONDENT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. John M. Melanson, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Horton, Justice

2010 Opinion No. 29

The decision of the district court is affirmed.

This is a consolidated appeal from the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA) district court's orders disallowing Bruce and Jared Bedkes' claimed water rights and awarding the City of Oakley (the City) attorney fees. We affirm and award the City attorney fees and costs on appeal.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Up until 1991, the Bedkes used water from the City's pipeline and paid for such use. In 1991, the pipeline was cut and capped by the City below the Bedkes' property and a new agreement for water usage was proposed by the City to the Bedkes. Bruce Bedke did not sign the agreement and ceased payment for water delivered under claimed right 45-13793. The Bedkes continued to pay for water delivered under claimed right 45-13792.

On September 7, 2004, the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) filed the director's report for Basin 45, recommending the Bedkes' claimed water rights numbered 45-13792 and 45-13793 be disallowed. The Bedkes objected to the recommendation that their claims be disallowed, asserting that they had met all the elements required for establishing those rights. The City responded to the Bedkes' objection, stating that the Bedkes' claimed water rights were simply derived from the City's pipeline and thus, the Bedkes were claiming water rights belonging to the City. On April 10, 2006, the parties filed a joint statement of facts and eventually both filed motions for summary judgment.

On December 13, 2006, the special master denied the Bedkes' request for summary judgment, granted the City's request for summary judgment, and recommended that the Bedkes' claimed water rights be disallowed. A week later, on December 20, 2006, the City filed a memorandum of costs and fees, requesting an award of attorney fees pursuant to I.C. §§ 12-120, 12-121, and 12-123. The Bedkes filed a memorandum in opposition to the City's motion for costs and fees on March 7, 2007, arguing in part that the City could not be entitled to attorney fees at that stage of the litigation because the outcome had not yet been decided at the district court and thus the prevailing party had yet to be determined-a requirement for an award of attorney fees. The City responded on March 13, 2007, by moving to strike the Bedkes' memorandum in opposition, arguing that such memorandum was untimely.

In the meantime, on January 26, 2007, the Bedkes filed a motion to alter or amend the special master's recommendation. On January 30, 2008, the special master issued an order denying the Bedkes' motion to alter or amend, granting the City's motion to strike the Bedkes' memorandum in opposition to the City's motion for costs and attorney fees, and recommending that the district court award the City attorney fees. The deadline for objecting to the recommendation regarding attorney fees was set on the special master's calendar for February 28, 2008.

On February 27, 2008, the Bedkes filed a notice of challenge to the special master's orders denying the Bedkes' motion to alter or amend the recommendation that their claimed water rights be disallowed, granting the City's motion to strike, and recommending an award to the City of attorney fees incurred in connection with the summary judgment proceedings. Along with this notice of challenge, the Bedkes filed a motion asking the district court, pursuant to I.R.C.P. 55(c), to deem the challenge to the special master's denial of their motion to alter or amend the recommendation of disallowance as having been timely filed. This motion was filed because the 14-day deadline for filing such a challenge, as prescribed in Administrative Order (AO) 1, § 13(c), had already passed. On February 29, 2008, the City filed a motion to strike the Bedkes' challenge as untimely.

On March 11, 2008, the district court issued an order denying the Bedkes' motion to deem their challenge as timely, granting the City's motion to strike the challenge, and disallowing the Bedkes' claimed water rights. The district court found that the portion of the Bedkes' challenge regarding the special master's recommendation of attorney fees was timely when considered as a motion to alter or amend the special master's recommendation on fees and recommitted the issue of attorney fees to the special master for further action. The district court certified this order as final, pursuant to I.R.C.P. 54(b).

On March 18, 2008, the Bedkes filed a motion asking the district court to reconsider its March 11, 2008 order. The district court denied that motion on March 24, 2008. On April 17, 2008, the Bedkes filed a timely notice of appeal from the district court's order denying their motion to deem their challenge timely filed and disallowing their claimed water rights and from the court's denial of their motion to reconsider. This Court assigned the appeal Docket No. 35217.

Upon recommitment, the special master considered the Bedkes' motion to alter or amend its recommendation regarding attorney fees and, on April 9, 2008, denied the motion. On April 17, 2008, the Bedkes filed with the district court a notice of challenge to the special master's order denying their motion to alter or amend the recommendation regarding attorney fees. On April 21, 2008, the City filed a second motion for costs and fees along with an accompanying memorandum, seeking to recover the costs and fees it incurred after the filing of its original motion for attorney fees. The Bedkes filed a motion to disallow the City's second motion for attorney fees, arguing inter alia that the City's memorandum of costs and fees was not verified. In response, on May 2, 2008, the City filed a second, verified memorandum of costs and attorney fees. On October 30, 2008, the district court affirmed the special master's order striking the Bedkes' memorandum in opposition to the City's motion for costs and attorney fees and adopted the special master's recommendation that the City be awarded attorney fees pursuant to I.C. § 12-121. That same day the district court entered judgment for the City against the Bedkes in the amount of $11,427.34. At oral argument, the Bedkes acknowledged that they paid the judgment under threat of a sheriff's sale.

On November 14, 2008, the Bedkes filed a motion to reconsider the district court's October 30th order. On that same day, the Bedkes also filed a motion to strike the City's second motion and verified memorandum of costs and attorney fees, because the motion and memorandum were not filed within 14 days of the final judgment as required by I.R.C.P. 54(d)(5). On December 10, 2008, the Bedkes filed their notice of appeal from the district court's October 30th order. This Court assigned this second appeal Docket No. 35943. On December 15, 2008, the district court issued an order denying the Bedkes' motion to reconsider its October 30th order and their motion to strike the City's second motion and verified memorandum for attorney fees.

On January 5, 2009, the Bedkes' two appeals were consolidated into the instant appeal under Docket No. 35217.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court may appoint a special master in any general adjudication and shall specify the special master's powers and duties in the order of reference.

I.C. § 42-1422. Subcases referred to a special master are governed by the [Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure (I.R.C.P.)] and the Idaho Rules of Evidence (I.R.E.).

I.C. § 42-1411(5); see S.R.B.A. AO1 9(b), (11)(d); see also In re SRBA Case, No. 39576, 128 Idaho 246, 258, 912 P.2d 614, 625 (1995).

State v. Hagerman Water Right Owners, Inc., 130 Idaho 736, 740, 947 P.2d 409, 413 (1997). The procedures in AO1 ―supplement the I.R.C.P., I.R.E., I.A.R. and any other applicable laws or orders of this court only to the extent necessary to allow for the fair and expeditious resolution of all claims or issues in the SRBA.‖ AO1 1(b).

The special master's findings which the court adopts are considered to be the findings of the court. I.R.C.P. 52(a); Higley v. Woodard, 124 Idaho 531, 534, 861 P.2d 101, 104 (Ct. App. 1993); Seccombe v. Weeks, 115 Idaho 433, 434 [435], 767 P.2d 276, 278 (Ct. App. 1989). The special master's conclusions of law are not binding upon the district court, although they are expected to be persuasive. Rodriguez v. Oakley Valley Stone, Inc., 120 Idaho 370, 378, 816 P.2d 326, 334 (1991). To the degree that the district court adopts the special master's conclusions of law, they are also the conclusions of the court. Higley, 124 Idaho at 534, 861 P.2d at 104.

Hagerman, 130 Idaho at 740, 947 P.2d at 413.

―This Court employs the same standard of review as the district court when ruling on a motion for summary judgment.‖ City of Pocatello v. State, 145 Idaho 497, 500, 180 P.3d 1048, 1051 (2008) (citation omitted). ―Summary judgment is proper when ‗the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.' Idaho R. Civ. P. 56(c).‖ Id. ―If there is no genuine issue of material fact, ‗only a question of law remains, over which this Court exercises free review.'‖ Id. (quoting Watson v. Weick, 141 Idaho 500, 504, 112 P.3d 788, 792 (2005)).

The question of compliance with the rules of procedure and evidence is one of law. See Harney v. Weatherby, 116 Idaho 904, 906-07, 781 P.2d 241, 243-44 (Ct. App. 1989). This Court freely reviews conclusions of law. Kootenai Elec. Co-op. Inc. v. ...


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